avatarAutumn Starr CNE CRS GRI


My father clearing snow with a broom

A child psychiatrist raised me, and I’m still traumatized. Part 2

As the herd grew to over 25 horses, the workload ripped my family apart. The fights were about the same thing—the care and feeding of the horses. The nightly screaming from the barn was shadowed only by the male barn cats growling at night. They were tearing each other apart over territory. Which one of my sweet barn cats would be gone the next day, I thought. That was when we were all older. Able to help with the many horses.

When I was very young, life wasn’t that bad.

The big red barn was ancient. The stales were under the barn, and the aisles were very narrow. We had 12 stales there, and more were in the upper barn. Both of these stables opened up to the paddock. We brought sand in and moved it about to make it easy on the horses. My father was dedicated to “Dressage”. Basically, it’s the fancy “proper” way of riding a horse. There were no Western saddles with large horns to hold onto. These saddles had no place to grip. You held on with your thighs. In fact, when you post ( bouncing up and down on the saddle, in rhythm with the horse strides), you raise and lower yourself onto the saddle using your leg muscles. Often, you had no stirrups to push up on. That was part of the training.

It did come in handy when I had to go to the lower pasture to round up the horses in the evening. They were all mares except for a gelded pony. Dart was my pony. If I could get on top of him, grabbing his mane like you see in Westerns, I would ride him back to the barn. The mares would follow.

In the main paddock, my father would hold classes and teach young people how to ride English Dressage. My father had it covered with a huge metal roof, making it an indoor ring. I had no idea where that money for that came from.

The barn was indeed a wonderful place—lots of places to hide. The hay loft was my favorite. When the loft was full of hay ( for feeding) and straw ( for bedding ), my brother and I would move the bales around to make a fort. Tunnels made from hay bales crossed ever which way.

Our nostrils would be black from the inhaled smoke coming from the bales.

We’d crawl on our elbows through the vast tunnels. An open area was planned at the end of the loft next to an open window overlooking the paddock. The space was several bales high and wide, plus bales as benches. It took a lot of work, but it was so worth it.

I was quite a hoyden—a tough girl or not a girl back then, more like a boy.

When I was still very young my fathers mother, MeMe came into our lives.

She was a Brooklyn-born tall redhead. Highly boisterous. She paid for a large country-style apartment built on the barn. It was a spectacular venture. One sizeable vaulted ceiling with barn beams crossing the ceiling and a dining area that overlooked the farmland and the valley miles away. Two bedrooms, a small kitchen, a bath, and a large living room with a massive tiled fireplace. Old plank flooring that squeaked and a double set of stairs leading to it from the upper barn.

The apartment is built on top of our old barn

The apartment was full of antiques. Meme was more of an investor than a dealer. Like my father, she accumulated items that made her feel whole. For her, it was beautiful antique tables and chairs, buffets, dressers, sofas, beds, and many collectibles. Glass chickens were everywhere, colored glassware and antique kitchenware. Old sea lanterns sat on either side of the barn beam fireplace mantle.

Meme was a cold woman, not a loving grandmother, though she enjoyed having my father come up after his chores ( and change of clothes, of course ) to sit with her and share expensive sherry or drink Manhattans. She called him “Sonny”. They both had loud voices, and laughter would echo in the open room.

MeMe once had a different husband than my grandfather. When she was younger, her love went off to war with Germany. A year later, the news would arrive that he was dead. Gassed, they said. Never again, she’d say, to marry for love was foolish; money was the only reason to marry.

I believe my prepubertal times were my best years. The house and barn were old but still standing. I was still too young to be expected to handle the stallions or do heavy chores

All I knew of sex I learned by watching the stallions breed.

After the mare was tied to the fence, my father would bring out the excited stallion. Though the mare protested, she stayed still as this huge beast mounted her. His front hooves pounded down on the mare’s sides. Blood started to cut through her hide. His mouth would be foaming, and with his teeth showing through, he bit her neck. What they said about a stallion’s cock was true. Massive, long like a rolling pin, thick as a baseball bat. The earth shook. It was magnificent to watch the strength of the stallion. The determination though, was terrifying.

She was selected to breed with this stallion. We always sought the best quality foal and we had our share of foals. Most of the time, they would appear at night. The pregnant mares would be in the upper barn, and there was a window to a part of the barn where you could sleep. So you would set the alarm for every 2 hours. Wake to see if the mare’s nipples were waxing, dripping milk. Then there was the pacing and sweating. If I were asleep, I’d get woken to come up to watch. So this is how babies are born? I wanted no part of that!

Then there were the cats; there were two classes: the Siamese inside cats and the outside barn cats. The outdoor population would always grow. People would often drop off their unwanted cats. So we always have a diverse, colorful population of cats to tend to. The 4 Siamese inside cats came from England as purebred Seal Points. I never understood why anyone would want these particular cats around. The females were constantly howling from being in heat, and the males would spray everywhere! My father would never neuter males, but allowed one, because he was born with a crooked ear. He became my cat, Opsy.

Like the horses, the cats could breed with no restraint. We always had at least two litters inside or out in the barn. I became responsible for the cats as I tried to protect myself from dealing with the horses. I didn’t escape all his rage, though.

My father tore my bedroom door off its hinges for some reason regarding the cat care. I must not have wanted to let him in my room. I remember being on my bedroom floor watching him. The anger inside his face is one vision I still can recall easily, sadly. Twisted skin, with his teeth showing and clenched, his eyes didn’t narrow from his toothy grin but wide and filled with hatred. Afterwards, the door lay peacefully on the floor with me leaning against it.

I was responsible for taking care of the liters. Siamese were not like the tougher barn cat liters. These kittens were weak and puny. Typically, 3 or 4 in a liter, and there was always a runt. The danger indeed lay with the other male cat getting access to the liter.

Burned into my memory is when I once opened the door into my sister’s room to tend to the babies.

I would see kitten heads—bloodied from being torn from their tiny bodies by the male cat that was not the father.

Shocked, somehow, he must have snuck into the room. Their bodies were mostly eaten or shredded to bits. Bloody legs or paws would stain the soft, fresh bedding I had put out for them to sleep and nurse on. I don’t know where the mother was…

I scooped up the 4 heads on toilet paper, holding them gently, with loving care, all in one hand and covering them with more tissue. I brought them into my mother’s bedroom, where she read in bed. I’d get her attention and lift the tissue, exposing the little heads. She was horrified and pushed her head back away from the site. I’m not sure what reaction I expected or even why I brought them to her. Perhaps just to share my sadness or the need for someone to explain why this happened to my baby kittens.

I’ve spent many adult hours talking to therapists about my development during these years.

One curious activity was my playtime. Why did I create storylines with my Barbie dolls that involved torture? Tieing them up, selling them as enslaved people, and sticking pins in their breasts, and dressing them as economically deprived ladies of the evening. Mostly, they were stolen from their homes. I’d write the slave auction blocks on the back of my closet wall where I played. Yes, I’m sure my mother knew. My sister and I played together at times. We called it “playing mean” like it was an ordinary game for young girls.

My father was well respected, and we were invited to the homes of wealthy families. Once, there was a visit to the home of the warden of the local prison. A wonderful place, a beautiful palace, I thought. The first feature I loved was how clean it was. No manure being tracked in, no cat piss on the walls or vomit on the furniture. Polished hardwood floors and warm wood trim everywhere. Ornate oriental carpets in every room and hall.

Two areas were the most thrilling; the kitchen had a huge walk-in pantry. My memories of this magical room were of cabinets full of soups, canned fruit, and pasta. Plus, a drawer just for popcorn. Who lives like this? The 2nd was the fireplace. They kept it blazing during our visits and a white shag carpet that I would fall asleep on.

There was one significant wealthy family in our lives. The father, David, was the chief psychiatrist of the local VA hospital. They owned a white mansion on a finger lake near us. Acres of manicured yard between the house and the lake. A large dock for their boats. Massive pillars on both sides of the house. Soaring ceilings inside with wood-stained elegant rooms. The father would show me his gardens; he knew I always enjoyed flowers. His wife, Louise, was lovely and kind to me; she knew of my growing interest in cooking and would invite me into her small kitchen to help her bake. The kitchen was the only safe place for me. He had four daughters and one son—all a range of ages. My sister and I were paired with daughters of similar ages. So I had Eleanor. She was a mean brat.

Unkind and spoiled.

She took joy in pointing out the differences between what she had, everything, and what I had—a pest-infested, filthy old house. She showed off her sizeable, spotless bedroom and wardrobes of fine clothes. She’d point out the shiny hardwoods, not scratched up and dull like my house. So don’t scratch them. She’d say to me.

You can do that at your house, but not mine.”

Comfy chairs, with large mirrors, where she’d brush her long, shiny blond hair. Her sun-tanned body kept bronzed by her regiment of lying on the deck sun tanning. Turning every 30 minutes, she boasted to ensure a proper summer tan.

Her older siblings enjoyed our horses and apple trees. They would come over to ride. If they were spoiled, they hid it well. Dr. David would become my psychiatrist for a short term when I was older. Perplexed at my father’s behavior, I would disclose to him, he and others believed that my father would join the sessions, but he never did.

The family fights started when we were old enough to work daily in the barn and continued throughout my youth. My brother and sister were older, so I was still young when it started, about 10.

“Who didn’t let the stallions out after bringing the mares in?” or “ Who left the feed box open just to have Dart get out and eat so much he’d develop colic?”. You then would have to walk him until he shit.

Someone didn’t clean the aisles, tie area, or leave enough straw after it was cleaned, or didn’t hay the mares.”

Then, the winter would come with the frozen water buckets. You couldn’t leave the buckets full of ice. You’d have to remove the full frozen buckets and, take them out of the barn, and knock them upside down until the giant ice ball fell onto the ground. The hoses and pipes would freeze up, too, and you’d have to lug boiling water from the house to thaw them out.

The hay even seemed to freeze but the worst was when you had to clean a stale of frozen manure.

I cleaned many stales, often when horses were in the stale. It was easy to spook a horse when you’re in a tight stale and picking up manure from around her legs. I received a good kick in the stomach from a mare once; that’s a pain you don’t quickly forget. My sister broke her arm, cleaning a stale. I guess I was lucky. The students and often their parents would be in the barn. One lady got her foot stepped on. It broke her foot. I heard she sued us, but I didn’t hear how it ended.

When I was 11, I was carrying hay through the barn when a stallion lunged his head out of the stale door opening, grabbed me by the shoulder with his teeth, and ripped into my skin like a backhoe into a sand dune.

Blood splattered the aisle. Perhaps I was in shock because I don’t remember what happened after that. I do remember my father wanting to impress any visitor with the massive gash in my shoulder, so my father told me to pull my shirt up over my shoulder so they could stand there in amazement at the damage to my young body. Embarrassing, since I was starting to develop breasts. I made sudo bras by cutting any t-shirts under my growing breasts. It didn’t serve the purpose, but it was better than nothing.

This event happened as I was growing into my ages at the farm that I do remember more.

My world changed when I was about 12. A new family had built a large home down the road from us. A large colonial perfectly positioned with a magnificent view of the valley. They were not from the country. They had come from an area closer to the city. The oldest of the three girls, Sue, was my age, and she was street-smart. With my puberty starting and my new and only neighborhood friend, my unknown future dangers had begun.

Thank you for listening

To be continued…

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